By Arman Kassam
No. 4 Stanford women’s golf heads to East Lansing, Michigan today for their 27th straight appearance at the NCAA Regionals, a competition that the Cardinal has won in each of their past three seasons. Of the 18 teams at this preliminary tournament, only six will have the opportunity to compete at Fayetteville, Arkansas for the NCAA National Championship on May 17-22.
The Cardinal have been on fire this past season, both on teamwide and individual levels. In addition to claiming a first-place finish at the East Lake Cup Oct. 29-31, winning the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge Feb. 3-5 and reigning victorious at the Bruin Wave Invitational Feb. 25-26, the warriors in red have been led by athletes that are on the verge of breaking records.
Junior Andrea Lee is just about to become the program leader in career wins (8) and is currently tied with Mhairi McKay (1994-97). Andrea Lee has also posted 26 top-10 and 20 top-5 finishes in her 31 career starts. Back in February, Lee was named Pac-12 Women’s Golfer of the Month — the third time she has been bestowed that honor, having won it also in October of 2016 and October of 2017.
Junior Albane Valenzuela joins Lee as one of the two Stanford golfers who are in the running for the prestigious ANNIKA Award, which is given to the top player in college women’s golf and is selected by various golfers, coaches and members of the golf media.
Most recently, Stanford finished fourth at the Pac-12 tournament from April 15-17, trailing behind No. 1 USC, No. 7 Arizona and No. 15 Arizona State with +16 to par. Though the Cardinal started off strong in the first round and did well in the second, they faced insurmountable setbacks in the third. The Cardinal shot only behind USC at 289 in the first round.
For a par-71 course, Albane Valenzuela shot 6 under in the first round, 1 under in the second and 3 over in the third. Andrea Lee was a bit more consistent, shooting 74, 71 and 72 over the three rounds. Aline Krauter experienced some formidable hurdles in the first round, shooting 9 over after having some trouble with the 3rd and 13th holes, but she bounced back in the second and third rounds and shot 1 over in both. In the end, USC prevailed and was the only school able to shoot under par (-1). Arizona shot +10 and Arizona State shot +15 to take second and third place.
On April 24, the top seeds for NCAA regionals were announced; Stanford is joined by USC, No. 3 Duke and No. 2 UT Austin. Each of the top teams will be sent to different courses across the country. Stanford will be competing against No. 12 Arizona State and No. 14 UCLA, among 13 other competing squads.
“The challenge of regionals is that you’re always competing against some schools who are free swinging,” women’s golf head coach Anne Walker said. “For a lot of them, they’re pleased to be there and have nothing to lose. For a team like us coming off a good year, we can’t play defensively; we have to play conservatively to limit big mistakes and we’ll be okay.”
Kent State may prove to be a formidable opponent in Michigan as the Golden Eagles managed to claim first at the Mid-American Conference Championships. Before that, Kent State took first place at the Mercedes-Benz Intercollegiate Sept. 17-18, the Lady Puerto Rico Classic Feb. 10-12 and the BYU Entrada Classic March 11-12.
Though they finished sixth at the Pac-12 tournament, UCLA have also had a standout season and earned a victory at the Golfweek Conference Challenge Sept. 24-26 as well as a second-place finish at the Northrop Grumman Regional. Nonetheless, the odds are looking good for Stanford; the Cardinal have advanced to the NCAA Championships every year since 2010. Meanwhile, the weather may not be as favorable as Stanford’s historic odds. There is a high chance of showers on Monday and Wednesday.
The showdown begins in East Lansing today at 5:03 a.m., and will last for three days.
Contact Arman Kassam at armank ‘at’ stanfor.edu